“Reasoning with God in Prayer”, from P.J. Tibayan -Give life to your Prayer List (Prayer, Intimacy with God, Holy Spirit)

Inject Your Prayer List with Life
Article by P.J. Tibayan

Pastor, Bellflower, California

I want to pray more this year. More than ever before.

God promises that he hears and actively responds to prayers as we come to him in the name of Jesus. We have not, because we ask not.

I’m resolved to pray biblical prayers for myself and others. I’m responsible to pray for the members of my church family because I’m a member of the family and James commands us to “pray for one another” (James 5:16). As a pastor, I’m to be devoted to not only the ministry of the Word, but also the ministry of prayer (Acts 6:4). As a friend, I want those I love to experience the joy of the Lord.

But there’s the problem: my praying through a list of names and needs often feels more like reading a shopping list than meaningfully communing with the Father in heaven.

As a Christian who cares a lot about theological accuracy, I’ve found that if I pray a biblically grounded prayer request then I’m content with that even if I’m not really meaningfully pleading or connecting with God. There has to be a better way.

As I finished up Tim Keller’s book, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God, I realized the problem, and discovered two antidotes. Tim Keller writes, distilling the insight of J. I. Packer,

. . . Packer is concerned about how many Christians tend to pray from long “prayer lists.” The theological thinking and self-reflection that should accompany supplication takes time. Prayer lists and other such methods may lead us to very speedily move through names and needs with a cursory statement “if it is your will” without the discipline of backing up our requests with thoughtful reasoning.

Packer writes that “if we are going to take time to think our way into the situations and personal lives on which our intercessions focus,” we may not be able to pray for as many items and issues.

“Our amplifyings and argumentation will [then] lift our intercessions from the shopping list, prayer-wheel level to the apostolic category of what Paul called ‘struggle’’’ (Colos,sians 2:1–3). (229–230, see also 250)

I see at least three tips for transforming our praying from grocery-list-praying to wrestling with God.

  1. Reason with God from his word.

First, when praying for names and needs, do not only ask God your specific request, but tell him why you’re asking for it.

Undergirding all of our requests is the spirit of “not my will, but yours be done.” This does not mean that we just tag an “if-you-will” mantra at the end of each request.

Every specific answer God gives to each prayer prayed is already according to the counsel of his will (Ephesians 1:11).

It does mean that when we pray our desires and reasons to God, we listen afresh to what his word teaches us about his character, mission, and desires — his will. It’s okay if we don’t know the Bible as well as a pastor or theologian. God knows that. We submit our request and our reasoning to our Father, knowing he cares for us and is drawing us near to him. And we ask him to continually be shaping and aligning our will with his.

For example, instead of praying, “God, please heal John of his sickness,” you might pray, “God, please heal John from his sickness so that he might glorify you at his job (1 Corinthians 10:31), working as unto you and not unto men (Colossians 3:23). Heal him so that as he goes back to work, he’ll accomplish the good works you’ve prepared for him (Ephesians 2:10). Heal him in order that he might earn money as your means of supplying his needs (Philippians 4:19) and giving him the resources he stewards to generously support the Great Commission work in his local church and elsewhere (2 Corinthians 9:6–8). And while he’s sick, draw him near to you and help him examine his soul for sin (Psalm 139:23–24). If there is any, may he confess it to you and others as you lead him (James 5:14–16).”

  1. Reflect on how God might use you to answer your prayer.

Second, reflect on what God is leading you by his Spirit to do in light of your request.

He may be telling you to follow up with the person or contact him. Perhaps he’s telling you to write him a note or ask him a question when you see him on Sunday. Maybe he’s telling you to repent of your negligence in the way you relate to that person. It’s possible he’s leading you to start a conversation where you can begin to share the gospel with him. You’ve asked God to move. What do you think he might be leading you to do?

Pray those self-reflective thoughts to God as you pray about the specific name or need.

Instead of praying, “God, please heal John of his sickness,” you might pray, “God, please heal John of his sickness. Help me to encourage him to draw near to you in the time of sickness. Should I ask him if he’s examined his soul for sin? If I should, can you please help me to ask him in a way that is not misunderstood or offensive? Help me ask in a way that is edifying and in which he feels loved. As I send him a text message, I pray that it lifts up his soul toward joy in you.”

Practice self-reflection. Then make sure you do what you believe God is leading you to do as you participate in God’s sovereign response to your prayers.

  1. Resist the urge to cram and rush.

Third, wrestling with God in prayer takes time. As you intercede for others, God is drawing you near to himself.

You can’t microwave meaningful moments with the Father. Moments like these are marinated.

As Keller puts it, “We may not be able to pray for as many items and issues.” I confess that I often pray for 11–13 church members a day like I’m reading a grocery list with a quick helpful thought between names. We should consider extending our prayer time or choosing to pray through fewer names, taking our time while drawing near to him.

As we meet with God in prayer, may we continually learn to wrestle with our Refuge and struggle with our Stronghold, that we may receive strength in the inner man for those we love and serve.

As you slow down, reason with God, and reflect for yourself,

“May [God] grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith — that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:16–19).

P.J. Tibayan (@pjtibayan) is a pastor of Bethany Baptist Church in Bellflower, CA, where he lives with his wife, Frances, and their five children. He blogs at gospelize.me and helps lead The Gospel Coalition Los Angeles Regional Chapter and the Shepherd LA Cooperative.

Source:  https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/inject-your-prayer-list-with-life

More Resources on Prayer:

Suggested Prayer Resources:

From L.Willowslinks for further reading on site on Prayer

The Power of Prayer, from R.A. Torrey (united prayer, worship, God who Loves)

Rejoice in Hope, Be Patient in Tribulation, Be Constant in Prayer by John Piper

Draw Near to God in Prayer: John Calvin on The Definition and Effectiveness of Prayer, by Dr. Joel R. Beeke

Draw Near to God Through Prayer; John Calvin’s “Rules of Prayer”

Prayer; Pouring to God through Christ, John Bunyan on Prayer

Rejoice in Hope, Be Patient in Tribulation, Be Constant in Prayer by John Piper

Conforming to God’s Holiness from Ligonier Ministries of RC Sproul

Is Anything Too Hard For The Lord? Sermon from C.H.Spurgeon, 1888 Metropolitan Tabernacle

Draw Near to God in Prayer: John Calvin on The Definition and Effectiveness of

Prayer, by Dr. Joel R. Beeke

Puritan Prayer, The Deeps

The Love of Jesus, Puritan Prayer

Praying in the Spirit, Martin Lloyd Jones

Eight Keys to Prayer by Marilee Pierce Dunker, Ambassador to World Vision

Praying in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, by John Walwoord

Praying in the Name of Jesus by O Hallesby

And So We Pray, Reconciliation

The Saint’s Happiness by Richard Sibbes

The Prayer of Worship and Adoration by J. Oswald Sanders

Praying the Lord’s Prayer from Tim Keller

Kingdom Centered Prayer from Tim Keller

Prayer Transforms us by God’s Presence by Ben Patterson (God’s Prayer Book)

Revival and the Holy Spirit from Martin Lloyd Jones

“Prayer; Gathering to Breathe God”, from L.Willows & Prayer Resources (Quotes on Prayer, God with us, Worship)

Knocking at the Door of Prayer

Prayer as always been a great passion of mine. I am grateful for a weekly prayer group. It is one of the greatest blessings in my life. We have been meeting together for years.  I remember that when I first started going, I would pray in the car on my way there, “Lord, help me learn to pray well in the group to glorify you. Please help me not to be self conscious, or afraid.” As I neared my destination I remember saying, “And, Lord- please guard me against the sin of pride, prepare my heart for prayer. May your Holy Spirit form the words.” Then, I remember parking the car, knocking on the door and feeling exhilarated as we sat down together quietly- ready to begin. The meetings have altered my heart and my life.

The door that we each knock on is always there wherever we are. It is God’s gift to us. As O. Hallesby says “To pray is nothing more involved than to open the door, giving Jesus access to our needs and permitting him to exercise his own power in dealing with them.”

The Lord’s kindness and patience is soft and merciful.

He hears the intentions of our hearts when we pray. My desire was to worship Him and glorify Him corporately.

We need to bring our hearts to the Lord during these times. Our journeys are each different but we all need the power of prayer in our lives. I have come to experience that there are different experiences of prayer in life. First prayer is in ongoing relationship with God each day.  Some agree that it can be practiced many times a day. Scripture says “Praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.” Ephesians 6:18.  Prayer is also with a prayer partner or in triads. Cooperate prayer is praying with a small or large group. Matthew 18:19-20- Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.

I believe that we need to gather together and worship.

When we gaze at the beauty and majesty of the Lord, our hearts melt.

We soften and become His; ready to meet with Him. The hardened parts that have battled the day or denied Him even for a moment, come forward and bend towards the Light of His Love. There, we begin Prayer. We remember who we are– His own, His Beloveds

Our hearts bow before the majesty of His Presence and seeing God’s beauty, we express our adoration and praise.  When we gathering before God, we stand before Holiness. In our prayer closets in our homes, in the intimate temple of His Love- we are with The Eternal One. The Lord Jesus is known and experienced  by the power of His Spirit through prayer. 

God is with us.

The Almighty God breathes his love, goodness, purpose and blessings into us through prayer.

Because of the joy and encouragement that prayer gives to me, I wanted to share some quotes that I found with you:

St. Augustine – Do you wish to pray in the temple? Pray in your own heart. But begin by being God’s temple, for he will listen to those who invoke him in his temple.

E.M. Bounds – Prayer is a wonderful, powerful; tool placed by Almighty God in the hands of His saints, which may be used to accomplish great purposes and to achieve unusual results. Prayer reaches to everything, takes in all things great and small which are promised by God to men. The only limits to prayer are the promises of God and his ability to fulfill those promises.

E. M. Bounds – Prayer is God’s life-giving breathe. God’s purposes move along the pathway made by prayer to their glorious designs. God’s purposes are always moving to their high and beneficial ends, but the movement is along the way marked by unceasing prayer. The breathe of prayer is from God.

E. M. Bounds -God shapes the world by prayer. The more praying there is in the world the better the world will be, the mightier the forces against evil.

John Bunyan – When you pray, rather let your heart be without words than words without heart.

Chrysostom, Saint Joan -Prayer is…a treasure undiminished, a mine never exhausted, a sky unobstructed by clouds, a haven unruffled by storm. It is the root, the fountain, ands the mother of a thousand blessings.

Billy Graham – Prayer is the rope that pulls God and man together. But it doesn’t pull God down to us: It pulls us up to him.

O. Hallesby -Prayer is so rich and so mobile that all we have to do when we pray is point to the persons of things to which we desire to have this power applied, and He, the Lord of this power, will direct the necessary power to the desired place at once.

O. Hallesby – To pray is nothing more involved than to open the door, giving Jesus access to our needs and permitting him to exercise his own power in dealing with them.

C. S. Lewis -Simply to say prayers is not to pray; otherwise a team of properly trained parrots would serve as well as men in prayer.

C. S. Lewis – It is quite useless knocking on the door of heaven for earthly comfort; it’s not the sort of comfort they supply there.

Martin Lloyd Jones – Everything we do in the Christian life is easier than prayer.

Martin Luther – To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.

Thomas Merton – And when God reveals himself to us in contemplation we must accept him as He comes to us, in His own obscurity, in His own silence, not interrupting Him with arguments or words, concentrations or activities that belong to the level of our own tedious and labored existence.

F. B. Meyer – The great tragedy of life is not unanswered prayer but unoffered prayer.

George Mueller – When once I am persuaded that a thing is right, I go on praying for it till the end comes. I never give up till the answer comes. The great fault of the children of God is that they do not continue in prayer. They do not persevere. If they desire anything for God’s glory, they should pray until they get it.”

Charles Spurgeon – Because God is the living God, he can hear; because he is a loving God, he will hear; because he is our covenant God, he had bound himself to hear.

Charles Spurgeon – Prayer is the slender nerve that moves the muscle of omnipotence.

Charles Spurgeon – On his knees, the believer is invincible.

Mother Teresa -Prayer enlarges the heart until it is capable of containing God’s gift of himself. Ask and seek, and your heart will grow big enough to receive him and keep him as your own.

Saint Teresa of Avila – Prayer doesn’t consist of thinking a great deal, but of loving a great deal.

John Vianney – The interior life is like a sea of love in which the soul is plunged and ism, and is, as it were, drowned in love. Just as a mother holds her child’s face in her hands to cover it with kisses, so does God hold the devout man.

© 2020 Linda Willows

Suggested Prayer Resources:

From L.Willowslinks for further reading on site on Prayer

The Power of Prayer, from R.A. Torrey (united prayer, worship, God who Loves)

Rejoice in Hope, Be Patient in Tribulation, Be Constant in Prayer by John Piper

Draw Near to God in Prayer: John Calvin on The Definition and Effectiveness of Prayer, by Dr. Joel R. Beeke

Draw Near to God Through Prayer; John Calvin’s “Rules of Prayer”

Prayer; Pouring to God through Christ, John Bunyan on Prayer

Rejoice in Hope, Be Patient in Tribulation, Be Constant in Prayer by John Piper

Conforming to God’s Holiness from Ligonier Ministries of RC Sproul

Is Anything Too Hard For The Lord? Sermon from C.H.Spurgeon, 1888 Metropolitan Tabernacle

Draw Near to God in Prayer: John Calvin on The Definition and Effectiveness of

Prayer, by Dr. Joel R. Beeke

Puritan Prayer, The Deeps

The Love of Jesus, Puritan Prayer

Praying in the Spirit, Martin Lloyd Jones

Eight Keys to Prayer by Marilee Pierce Dunker, Ambassador to World Vision

Praying in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, by John Walwoord

Praying in the Name of Jesus by O Hallesby

And So We Pray, Reconciliation

The Saint’s Happiness by Richard Sibbes

The Prayer of Worship and Adoration by J. Oswald Sanders

Praying the Lord’s Prayer from Tim Keller

Kingdom Centered Prayer from Tim Keller

Prayer Transforms us by God’s Presence by Ben Patterson (God’s Prayer Book)

Revival and the Holy Spirit from Martin Lloyd Jones

“Majesty Revealed: The Beauty of God”, from Dr. Michael A.G. Haykin (with Jonathan Edwards, Aquinas, Augustine)

God’s Majesty, Revealed

A Biblical Focus

Down to the eighteenth century, pastors and theologians regularly considered the concept of beauty to be central to any discussion of the divine nature. As these pastors and theologians read the Bible, especially the Hebrew Scriptures, they were struck by various places where God is described as beautiful.

For example, in Psalm 27:4, the Psalmist asserts, “One thing I have desired of the Lord, that will I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord” (NKJV).

Here, beauty is ascribed to God as a way of expressing the Psalmist’s conviction that the face-to-face vision of God is the profoundest experience available to a human being. Again, in Psalm 145:5 the Psalmist states that he will meditate “on the glorious splendor” or beauty of God’s majesty (NKJV). Similarly, the eighth-century (bc) prophet Isaiah can predict that there is coming a day when God will be “a crown of glory and a diadem of beauty” to His people (Isa 28:5, NKJV).

One of the most important biblical concepts in this connection is that of “glory.” When used with reference to God, this concept emphasizes His greatness and transcendence, splendor and holiness. God is thus said to be clothed with glory (Psalm 104:1), and His works to be full of His glory (Ps 111:3). The created realm, the product of His hands, speaks of this glory day after day (Ps 19:1-2).

But it is especially in His redemptive activity on the plane of history that God’s glory is revealed. The glory manifested in this activity is to be proclaimed throughout all the earth (Ps 96:3), so that one day “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord” (Hab 2:14, NKJV). In other words, it was their encounter with God on the plane of history that especially enabled the biblical authors to see God’s beauty and loveliness shining through the created realm.

Augustine and Aquinas on the Beauty of God

Later theologians built upon these biblical foundations. The fourth-century North African thinker Augustine (354–430), for instance, identifies God and beauty in a famous prayer from his Confessions:

I have learnt to love you late, Beauty at once so ancient and so new! I have learnt to love you late! You were within me, and I was in the world outside myself. I searched for you outside myself and, disfigured as I was, I fell upon the lovely things of your creation… The beautiful things of this world kept me from you and yet, if they had not been in you, they would have had no being at all. 

The material realm is only beautiful because it derives both its being and its beauty from the One who is Beauty itself, namely, God. Augustine intimates that if he had been properly attendant to the derivative beauty of the world, he would have been led to its divine source.

Similarly, Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225–1274), the quintessential medieval theologian, argues that God is called Beauty because, as Aquinas comments, “He gives beauty to all created beings.” He is, Aquinas goes on, most beautiful and super-beautiful, both because of His exceeding greatness (like the sun in relation to hot things) and because He is the source of all that is beautiful in the universe. He is thus beautiful in Himself and not with respect to anything else. And since God has beauty as His own, He can communicate it to His creation. He is, therefore, the exemplary cause of all that is beautiful. Or, as Aquinas puts it elsewhere: “Things are beautiful by the indwelling of God.”

Jonathan Edwards Reflects on the Beauty of God

As one enters the modern era, a profound reconstruction takes place in thinking about beauty in general. The watershed is the eighteenth century, when there is a dramatic movement away from the question of the nature of beauty to a focus upon the perceiver’s experience of the beautiful.

The perception of beauty now becomes the basic concept in the writing and thinking about this subject. And it is intriguing that there is a corresponding diminution of interest in the ascription of beauty to God.

Nevertheless, one can still find vital representatives of the older tradition.

One such figure is the New England theologian, Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758), who stands at the center of eighteenth-century Evangelical spirituality and who was deeply conversant with earlier theological thought, especially that of the Augustinian tradition.

There is no doubt that beauty is a central and defining category in Edwards’ thinking about God. He regards beauty as a key distinguishing feature of the divine being:

“God is God,” he writes in his Religious Affections, “and distinguished from all other beings, and exalted above ‘em, chiefly by His divine beauty, which is infinitely diverse from all other beauty.” Unlike creatures who receive their beauty from another, namely, God, it is “peculiar to God,”

Edwards writes elsewhere, “that He has beauty within Himself.”

Typical of the older tradition in aesthetics, his central interest is not in what he calls “secondary beauty,” the beauty of created things, but “primary beauty,” that of God. His writings contain no extended discussion of the nature of the fine arts or of human beauty. Even his occasional rhapsodies regarding the beauties of nature function chiefly as a foil to a deeper reflection on the divine beauty. Secondary beauty holds interest for him basically because it mirrors the primary beauty of spiritual realities.

Preaching the Beauty of God

Edwards’ focus on the beauty of God does not mean he has no interest in the beauty of this world. In his Personal Narrative, for example, while he is describing his conversion to Christianity, he indicates that his conversion wrought a change in his entire outlook on the world:

The appearance of everything was altered: there seemed to be, as it were, a calm, sweet cast, or appearance of divine glory, in almost everything. God’s excellency, His wisdom, His purity and love, seemed to appear in everything; in the sun, moon, and stars; in the clouds, and blue sky; in the grass, flowers, trees; in the water, and all nature; which used greatly to fix my mind. I often used to sit and view the moon, for a long time; and so in the daytime, spent much time in viewing the clouds and sky, to behold the sweet glory of God in these things…

This passage helps us answer the question: How does the preacher present the glorious beauty of God to His people?

The answer is, not only by preaching on biblical passages that reference this divine beauty, but by taking the time to meditate on the glory of God visible in the secondary beauty of the created realm. Edwards’ sermons communicated the glory of God since they were grounded in part in his own experience of that glory as he spent time gazing upon the created beauty all around him.

What is also striking about this passage is what Michael McClymond has recently called Edwards’ “capacity for seeing God in and through the world of nature.”

For Edwards, the beauty of creation exhibits, expresses and communicates God’s beauty and glory to men and women. In nature God’s beauty is visible. Thus, he could state with regard to Christ:

…the beauties of nature are really emanations or shadows of the excellencies of the Son of God. So that, when we are delighted with flowery meadows, and gentle breezes of wind, we may consider that we see only the emanations of the sweet benevolence of Jesus Christ. When we behold the fragrant rose and lily, we see His love and purity. So the green trees, and fields, and singing of birds are the emanations of His infinite joy and benignity. The easiness and naturalness of trees and vines are shadows of His beauty and loveliness. The crystal rivers and murmuring streams are the footsteps of His favor, grace, and beauty. When we behold the light and brightness of the sun, the golden edges of an evening cloud, or the beauteous bow, we behold the adumbrations of His glory and goodness; and, in the blue sky, of His mildness and gentleness. There are also many things wherein we may behold His awful majesty, in the sun in His strength, in comets, in thunder, in the hovering thunder-clouds, in ragged rocks, and the brows of mountains.

Again, this passage is rooted in Edwards’ spending time meditating on God and Christ in creation, and his determination to have a God-centered approach to all things, in strong contrast to the man-centered perspective that was coming to the fore in Western culture in the eighteenth century.

Edwards’ Advice to Today’s Preacher

How then should the gospel preacher today speak about the beauty of God?

He first needs to recognize the loss of the concept of divine beauty that is part of even his own evangelical heritage. Evangelical theologians and authors simply have not talked about beauty as a divine attribute for the best part of two centuries.

Though evangelical theologians are beginning to realize what has been lost in this regard, the evangelical pulpit rarely sounds this vital note about our God. Then, time must be taken to meditate on God’s beauty in creation.

Here, Jonathan Edwards is such a good model to follow: he saturated himself with God in His material world, soaking up the beauty of God displayed in manifold ways in His creation. This helped to prepare him to preach on texts that bespeak God’s beauty and glory. Of course, the biblical text was primary for Edwards. Charged with the glory of God, it provided Edwards—as it does today’s preacher—with an inerrant basis for declaring to the world this great truth: our triune God is a glorious being of such awe-inspiring beauty that the prospect of catching but one glimpse of His face in Christ in the new heavens and new earth will forever provide purpose for living all-out for Him in this world.

Author: Dr. Michael A.G. Haykin, Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality and Director of The Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of a number of books, including Jonathan Edwards: The Holy Spirit in Revival and The God who draws near: An introduction to biblical spirituality.

(This article originally appeared in the Nov/Dec 2014 Expositor magazine.)